Problematic platform Parler resurfaces online, but its users refuse to join back

By Malavika Pradeep

Published Feb 22, 2021 at 10:39 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Parler, a social network popular on the far-right, resurfaced last week after getting the boot from Amazon, Apple and Google a month ago. Sporting a new identity and CEO, the controversial platform claims to facilitate freedom of speech to its users once again. However, the platform’s return is far from a triumph. Within hours of its relaunch, the site was inaccessible to many. Taking forever to load on computers and giving up on mobiles altogether, the site now seems to have lost its appeal to users who claim to have moved onto platforms like Telegram, Gab and MeWe.

Initially blacklisted for the proliferation of election-related misinformation and call for violence in ties with the Capitol riots, Parler came under heavy scrutiny after GPS data proved that some members of the platform had breached the Capitol themselves. Despite the controversy, Parler showed no signs of stepping up to its moderation while Twitter and Facebook were quick to remove former President Donald Trump and members of the QAnon conspiracy theory from their platforms.

Though this move provided Parler with a window, where the platform witnessed a surge of new users consisting majorly of pro-Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists, the wave was short-lived. Amazon was the first to kick Parler from its web-hosting service, followed by Google who yanked the platform’s smartphone app from Play Store for allowing postings that seek “to incite ongoing violence in the US.” Apple was next in line, claiming that the platform was being used to “plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.”

Much went down while the platform was dormant. The company fired its co-founder and CEO, John Matze, after he pushed the platform to crack down on domestic terrorists and violence in order to get the app back in stores again. An investigation also revealed Parler’s plans of selling shares in exchange for former President Donald Trump signing up and posting exclusively on the platform. Though the negotiations fell through, Parler was later revealed to have played a central role in helping identify Capitol rioters using videos posted by users. These videos were used during the former president’s impeachment trial.

A month later, #ParlerIsBack, announcing its plans to relaunch along the lines of “We will not be cancelled.” To back up those claims and beat the moderation game, Parler has introduced a string of guidelines, which according to the platform, are “viewpoint neutral.” The guidelines include the deployment of a “privacy-preserving process” using human and AI moderators to monitor content that threatens or incites violence. The platform also provides an appeal process for users who believe their content had been taken down due to an error. Another feature is the “trolling filter” which claims to hide all posts that attack users based on race, sex, sexual orientation or religion. However, those who want to view the content will be allowed to do so by clicking through the filter.

With Mark Meckler, one of the early creators of the Tea Party movement at the helm as the interim CEO, the platform is supposedly rebuilt on independent technology and is “not reliant on so-called ‘Big Tech’ for its operations”—a lesson which Meckler claims to have learned from Parler’s blacklisting. “When Parler was taken offline in January by those who desire to silence tens of millions of Americans, our team came together, determined to keep our promise to our highly engaged community that we would return stronger than ever,” Meckler said in a statement, welcoming everyone back onto the platform.

Little did he know that these so-called ‘target users’ would have moved on in under a month. Tracing common refrains on various pro-Trump and QAnon forums, Vice reports an influx of “It’s a trap” and “Parler is done, bro”-s. Users on these sites suggested that Parler was back online as an “NSA honeypot” designed to allow the government to capture information about right-wing groups.

Vice also notes the flock of Parler’s users to Telegram, an encrypted-messaging app where members of various QAnon channels themselves state their disinterest in returning to the controversial platform, instead preferring their new home. Gab is yet another platform that has seen a massive spike in users following Parler’s demise. The free speech-focused social network has become the latest hotspot for racists and QAnon supporters.

With Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store still barring Parler’s distribution, it is unclear if the platform is here to stay. The fact that Parler doesn’t control its own servers, instead relying wholly on the web-hosting service, SkySilk further questions its future. However, Meckler backs up Parler in his recent statement, “Parler is being run by an experienced team and is here to stay. We will thrive as the premier social media platform dedicated to free speech, privacy and civil dialogue,” which could only mean two things: either Parler will test tech giants in new ways or sit ducks in the process. It’s all a matter of time, maybe another month?

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